Julia's Weekly Column For The Middy

Watch out for the dangers that summer ‘walkies’ can pose to your pet!

Grass awns are the ripe seed heads of grasses. They only mature in fields and hedgerows that aren’t mown. They have minute hooks on their long ‘whiskers’, designed to catch onto animal fur. If a rabbit or other wild creature comes by, the awn hooks on, and then is dropped off in another field later, spreading the seed far afield from the original parent plant.

If you pick some up and try running your fingers along their whiskers, you will find them very smooth in one direction, and completely barbed in the other direction.

This has the unfortunate effect that, combined with a sharp point at one end, grass awns behave like giant splinters that almost actively bury themselves in the pet’s fur. They can even break through the skin and then potentially travel through the flesh, very slowly and painfully over weeks, creating an infected and sometimes weeping track as they go.

I am quite familiar with the nasty wounds that grass awns can cause to a dog’s paw, but had almost never seen more than one at a time affecting the same pet. But last summer we removed so many we lost count, from a charmer called Teddy.

It started as a routine appointment; Teddy was obviously bothered by something in his paw. He had started licking at it obsessively, making the fur damp. But, because he was a Labradoodle, even with a summer haircut there was so much fur between his toes that his owner was unable to see what the problem was.

With the help of experience and good quality electric fur trimmers, I was able to establish that a grass awn had worked its way into his flesh. I removed it with forceps, apparently solving his problem. Before he left I checked the rest of his paws, and was chuffed to find another one, very unusually, and remove it before it started to embed itself. I patted myself on the back for a job well done.

So imagine my surprise when he reappeared two days later, licking three of his paws! We checked him again, and found multiple awns between each toe, and then incredibly also pockets of them in his armpits and between his legs. It was as if he was an awn-magnet!

It took ages to gently remove them all, in various depths of penetration through his skin. He was completely amazing and patient. Whilst working, we discovered from his owner that their favourite dog walk at that time was through a field of ripe grass. The solution was obvious. He was to avoid that field and all ripe grass areas at that time of year, and I suggest that you do the same.

In addition, do remember to check your pet’s paws in summer time, keeping the fur between the toes good and short, and removing any bits of vegetation that get caught there as soon as you return from walkies.

14th February 2018